Month: March 2020

The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself

One thing that seems to be spreading faster than the coronavirus is fear. I’ve stopped checking social media and the internet in general to avoid conspiration theories, self-appointed pandemic experts and doomsday prophets. I sometimes browse both for a few minutes (who am I kidding?) for a couple of hours, and it scares me (pun intended). Every time. Fear is now tangible. Palpable. Everywhere.

There are a lot of questions and few answers.

How long will this virus keep the whole world in its grasp? Will there be a vaccine? Will I or my family get sick? What happens with the economy? My job? Will life go back to the normal, ever?

Fear is normal, it’s a complex survival mechanism that serves us well. Living in a constant state of fear is not. Scared people are dangerous people. You never know what they’ll do, how they’re going to react when things get worse. When the reptile brain would simply take over and overwrite common sense and decency.

Others may become completely paralyzed, like deer caught in the headlights, incapable of action.

F. D. Roosevelt knew this. Here’s what he said in 1933, in the midst of another global crisis.

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. – Franklin D. Roosevelt, from the speech at his first presidential inauguration on March 4, 1933.

Another Roosevelt, Theodore, laconically advises us what to do: 

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Yes, fear is normal in the middle of a pandemic with so many unknowns. But we should not give in to fear. As I’m writing this, the sun is shining over Stockholm in a cobalt blue sky and the birds twitter, drunk with spring and sunshine. This too shall pass.

I found the poem below in Tim Ferriss’ newsletter from Friday. A poem speaking of fear and despair, but also hope and resilience. Take a break, take a deep breath, take the time to read a poem and just pause this whirling world for a moment.

Nature is therapy. Pause and smell the flowers.

Lockdown

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
But,
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
Sing. 

– Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM*
March 13th 2020

The Order of Friars Minor, also called the Franciscans, the Franciscan Order, or the Seraphic Order, has a postnominal abbreviation OFM. 

Stay healthy. Stay calm and soldier on. And don’t forget to laugh. 


Catching The Heart-Beat Of Life

The secret of it all is, to write in the gush, the throb, the flood, of the moment – to put things down without deliberation – without worrying about their style – without waiting for a fit time or place. I always worked that way. I took the first scrap of paper, the first doorstep, the first desk, and wrote – wrote, wrote. No prepared pictures, no elaborated poem, no after-narrative, could be what the thing itself is. You want to catch its first spirit – to tally its birth. By writing at the instant the very hear-beat of life is caught.

Walt Whitman on writing from ”Walt Whitman Speaks: Final Thoughts on Life, Writing, Spirituality, and the Promise of America”. You can find it here.

The New York Review of Books published the introduction (in a somewhat different form) in the April 18th, 2019 issue; a good read available here.


C as in Creativity. Or Corona.

151 words. That’s all I’ve written yesterday. 

527 words. That’s how many words I’ve deleted yesterday.

Welcome to the corona world!

While I’m not anxious about the coronavirus (yet), I do feel some healthy concern and I admit that I find it hard to concentrate on anything. I sit at my desk every day from 9 to 12 and write, mostly my new book, sometimes the blog, sometimes a poem. Some days everything is easy, the words flow, and I feel on top of the world. Some days … not. And that’s OK. As every creator knows, ups and downs are part of the creative life. We muddle through those days and hope for a better day tomorrow.

But this is new. It’s not writer’s block or lack of inspiration or ideas. This is just staring at the monitor while wondering whether I should check the WHO site or the corona tracker for updates, call my parents to check they’re still fine, talk to my sister who’s, of course, working from home, or just work in the garden and escape from it all.

These are unsettling and for lack of a better word, weird times. The uncertainty, not knowing what will happen, not knowing how long it’ll take or what the long-term impact would be, take its toll. And it will get worse before it will get better. This is just the beginning.

So how are we to live through this unreal and frustrating reality? Holed up in our homes, social distancing and binge-watching all TV series? 

Dark storm clouds.
The storm clouds are still gathering. Don’t lose hope. Keep calm and carry on!

I don’t think so. 

Granted, there are certain constraints that we simply have to live with (sorry, grandma, no visits!), however, I think we should try to hang on to some degree of normality. Working from home? Get out of pajamas and dress for work. Then work, not check Twitter for “a five minutes break” and be gone down the rabbit hole of social media for an hour. Have a set schedule for work and follow it. Do your chores as you would normally do. Do your laundry on Fridays as usual. Get out the trash on Wednesdays as usual. 

The mundane is the new black. We shun the everyday life, dreaming of adventures in faraway lands, but in a crisis, we find ourselves longing for that everyday. We wish to be able to sit in a traffic jam again; to rush breathlessly from work to the kindergarten before it closes and be greeted by a teacher giving you the evil eye; to quarrel with the neighbor about his tree leaning dangerously over the fence. 

So, what now? How do we keep writing? How do we keep creativity alive in the times of corona?

Simple. Working.

The worst thing in a crisis is to be idle. It just gives you more time to feel anxious. The danger is that anxiety spreads faster than the virus.

Creativity is your butt on the hard chair, every day, whether you create or not. Creativity is hard work, whether you feel like it or not. Especially if you’re not feeling like it. Do the work. Show up. Every day. Click To Tweet

Me? I’ve done my time, written some paragraphs in my book and a blog post. Now I’m going out to work in the garden. It’s a whooping plus five degrees (that’s 41 Fahrenheit) here in Stockholm and the sun is out!

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay calm and soldier on. And don’t forget to laugh. 


Tuesday Musings: Life in The Time of Corona

What can I say that hasn’t be said already? By now the coronavirus has impacted the whole world, directly or indirectly. We’ve learned where Wuhan lies (I guess most of the people couldn’t place it on a map before the beginning of January). We’ve learned that we need to “flatten the curve” and “practice social distancing”. We’ve decided to self-isolate and work from home.

As always in human history, crises bring up the best (young people offering to shop for old people) and the worse (hoarding toilet paper?? really?) in people. This too will pass. This we know. 

But we don’t know what we don’t know, and I think this is what makes many people nervous at least, or worse, including me. We don’t know much about this novel virus and there’s no vaccine. The pandemic may be over in a few weeks when it gets warmer in the northern hemisphere, or it may not. It may mutate in something worse. Or not. 

Some countries have closed borders and closed down public life. If the pandemic continues, how long can that lockdown be sustained? What about the economic consequences? Nobody knows.

So, in the midst of all this, it’s important to remember to pause. Take a deep breath. It’s (probably) not the end of the world, even if the tone on the internet may sound like this at times. 

Remember that the most dangerous thing at the moment is not the virus unless you’re in the risk group of course, but the overloading of the health care system and other critical infrastructure. Hence “flatten the curve”. Sure, it’s disrupting everyday life and being stuck at home with bored, overactive children, is no fun. But it beats the alternative. Panic. Chaos. We all need to act responsibly for the greater good. 

Here’s a cat photo for you to lighten up this post. You’re welcome!
  • Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Check the source.
  • In fact, restrict time checking websites and social media. Check updates from the World Health Organization instead, and reliable established media for your peace of mind.
  • Follow public health advice from WHO and your local health authority. Don’t think you’re the exception. Do your part.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Avoid public gatherings and maintain social distancing: at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough with your bent elbow or tissue. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately.
  • Work from home if you can and remember to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
  • Cancel unnecessary travel.
  • Stay at home if you begin to feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and a slight runny nose, until you recover. Avoiding contact with others and visits to medical facilities will allow these facilities to operate more effectively and help protect you and others from possible COVID-19 and other viruses.
  • If you develop fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical advice promptly as this may be due to a respiratory infection or other serious condition. Call in advance and tell your provider of any recent travel or contact with travelers. Calling in advance will allow your health care provider to quickly direct you to the right health facility. This will also help to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19 and other viruses.
  • Be kind and support one another.

So … stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay calm and soldier on. And don’t forget to laugh.


It Was A Hand In The Darkness And It Held A Knife

Tree

I finally found some time to listen to Neil Gaiman talking to Tim Ferriss in ”The Tim Ferriss Show” (a podcast that I highly recommend, it’s one of my favorite podcasts). The interview is almost two hours long and I wanted to have time, and peace of mind, to really enjoy it. And take plenty of notes.

It’s always such a pleasure listening to Neil Gaiman’s hypnotically soothing voice talking about creativity and writing, books, his friendship with Terry Pratchett, fountain pens (he writes with a fountain pen) and the New York Fountain Pen Hospital (yes, there’s such a thing, the place to go if you want to buy a new fountain pen or repair the one you have).

I have included below a few points that have resonated with me. It wasn’t easy, I could have gone on much longer but wanted to keep the length of this post manageable.

About Ian Fleming’s writing process (yes, James Bond’s creator), who didn’t like writing. His method? Lock yourself up in a not too good hotel, in a not too good room in a town you don’t want to be in (as to avoid distractions and getting comfy), and just write ”like a fiend” until you’re done.

Most important writing rule: you can sit here and write, or you can sit here and do nothing; but you cannot sit here and do anything else. All you are allowed to do is absolutely nothing, or write. You give yourself permission to write or not write, but you end up writing eventually as doing nothing is boring and your wandering mind will start sparkling ideas. Not having to write takes off some pressure as well.

On first drafts: nobody is ever meant to read your first draft. That is just you telling the story to yourself.

Setting up a Groundhog Day: writing (a novel) works best if you can do the same day over and over again. Figure out a daily practice that works for you, and repeat that day, every day, day after day after day. Austin Kleon used the same image in his new book ”Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad”: every day is a Groundhog Day. 

You can read the whole podcast transcript  (and, of course, listen to/watch the podcast) on Tim Ferriss blog.

Neil Gaiman Quotes from the Podcast

All I’m allowed to do is absolutely nothing, or write.

What I love about that is I’m giving myself permission to write or not write, but writing is actually more interesting than doing nothing after a while. (…) I think it’s really just a solid rule for writers. You don’t have to write. You have permission to not write, but you don’t have permission to do anything else.

Part of what I discovered, particularly about being a novelist, is writing a novel works best if you can do the same day over and over again. The closer you can come to Groundhog Day, you just repeat that day. You set up a day that works for yourself. (…) I would do that day over and over and over and over. 

 I also think that the most important thing for human beings is to be aware of the change. The biggest problem we run into is going, “This is who I am, this is what I’m like. This is how I function.” while failing to notice that you don’t do that anymore

The biggest thing, looking back on it, that I learned from Terry <Pratchett> was a willingness to go forward without knowing what happens. You might know what happens next, but you don’t know what happens after that, but it’s okay because you’re a grownup and you will figure it out. 

Bonus: listen to Neil Gaiman’s audiobooks read by himself. Such joy! My favorites: Art Matters (this should be handed out for free in all schools, by the way!), The Graveyard Book, and Coraline.

Complete with: Tim Ferriss interview with  Amanda Palmer (singer, songwriter, playwright, author, director, blogger and Neil Gaiman’s wife); and Austin Kleon’s A Portable Routine.

Wondering where the post title comes from? It’s a line from one of Gaiman’s old notebooks that eventually become the beginning of The Graveyard Book; Gaiman talks about its genesis in the interview.